U.S. Organizes Job Fair for Iraqis
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The first group of Iraqi refugees has arrived in the United States, and U.S. officials pledge to accept 7,000 by the end of this year. That's a small fraction of the two million Iraqis who fled their country over the past four years, since the war began.
As NPR's Deborah Amos reports, the U.N. offices in charge of registering Iraqi refugees are working overtime.
DEBORAH AMOS: In a bare office in Beirut, Lebanon, Arafat Jamal(ph) reads horror stories, thousands of them. Jamal's job is to examine applications from Iraqis chased out of their homes by violence - kidnapping, torture, death threats. Then he has to make tough choices, which ones are eligible for resettlement in the United States.
Mr. ARAFAT JAMAL (United Nations): We try to make sure that we have a balance. We try to make sure that we're not overdoing it with certain minorities. You know, we are indeed reaching those who are most vulnerable.
AMOS: Jamal heads the regional resettlement office for the U.N. high commissioner for refugees.
Mr. JAMAL: We've geared up so that we can submit 20,000 Iraqis for resettlement this year, and we're on target for that.
AMOS: While some of these cases will be considered by Canada, Australia and a few European countries, the majority will be sent for consideration to the U.S. This spring the Bush administration requested UNHCR to refer as many as could be processed.
Mr. JAMAL: Now the big question is how the system will work. But I think the proof will be in the rates of acceptance.
AMOS: In April, Assistant Secretary Of State Ellen Sauerbrey said the U.S. could accept up to 25,000 Iraqi refugees this year. But then, in a blow to waiting refugees, administration officials scale the number back to 7,000. Sauerbrey says the first resettlement cases have finally arrived - 63 in June, with more to come by the end of September.
Ms. ELLEN SAUERBREY (Assistant Secretary Of State): Two thousand will have completed the security clearance process and arrived in the United States, but many more in the pipeline that will be coming quickly behind.
AMOS: Not quick enough for a bipartisan group of U.S. senators. In June, they wrote to Homeland Security and the State Department - speed it up, they urged. But Homeland Security has recently added an additional security clearance just for Iraqi refugee, which has slowed things down, says Sauerbrey.
Ms. SAUERBREY: I understand the frustration - believe me. We have been trying to get this process moving more quickly, but it does take time. We live in a post-9/11 world and security clearance is a lengthy process today.
AMOS: In Amman, Jordan, Iraqi's wait in a long line at the U.N. refugee office. There has been a surge of applications here, about 90 per day. It's just the first step in legal immigration to a third country.
Ana Maria Deutchlander(ph), head of the U.N. refugee office in Amman, looks at the long lines outside and the growing piles of applications. She has submitted more than 3,000 resettlement cases from Jordan alone.
Ms. ANA MARIA DEUTCHLANDER (U.N. Refugee Office, Amman, Jordan): I'm personally very worried about what's going to happen because there was so much enthusiasm generated among the Iraqi community when they heard about these, you know, places for resettlement.
AMOS: The welcome here for Iraqis is wearing thin. Jordanian officials estimate the cost for sheltering this exile community at about a billion dollars a year. Jordanians are anxious for the resettlement program to get underway, says Deutchlander.
Ms. DEUTCHLANDER: In terms of, you know, increasing registration, we have been using the cards, also submitting a lot of people, and these people would be departing so therefore they won't be your problem anymore. Now, their fear is that these people will stay here, and they will stay here.
AMOS: The U.S. government is trying to make it easier for one category of refugees - translators who had to leave Iraq under threat because they worked for the U.S. military.
In the meantime, U.N. officials around the region are sorting through thousands more applications, says Arafat Jamal.
Mr. JAMAL: Nobody's complaining, I think, about the workload. That's good. I think what we're all worried about though is while these are solutions for individuals, what's the bigger picture and what can be done for the Iraqis in the longer term?
AMOS: Iraqi exiles are straining the resources of neighboring countries. The flight from Iraq has not stopped.
Deborah Amos, NPR News.
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